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Improve your RPG: Combat

From Dungeons & Dragons to Pathfinder, combat is an integral part of any tabletop RPG.  Take in mind that this is coming from a stanch advocate of RPG sessions focusing on a strong story element.  As a DM, I prefer to avoid combat as a main focal point.  That said, I also believe it is important to approach combat in the same way I approach role-playing.

To really immerse players in a game you must find ways not only to tell your story, but to paint it and make it come alive.  Today I will provide you with some new ideas to make the combat portion of your game fresh and exciting.  I’m listing these as ideas because that’s exactly what they are.  You may adopt one or all of these ideas into your game to make combat a lot more exciting than just rolling dice and drinking soda.

Idea #1: Add music to your game

Find some really kick ass music to add to your battles.  You may already play Bach or traditional medieval music while your players explore crypts or parlay with sexy wenches in taverns while in town.  Now crank it up a notch and find some really hot stuff to keep the players engaged in the battles.  Have something prepared for each battle and note the artist and track you want to play right next to your battle in your DM notes.  Que the audio track prior to the battle so the PCs don’t have a tip off that something is coming up.  When the PCs enter the battle let the audio roll.

Suggestions for audio:

Traditional Battles:
Akimbo (Jon who writes for NERD TREK sings and plays bass in Akimbo)
The Sword

Epic Battles:
The Black Mages

Strange Battles:
(Combat on another plane or existence, space, or against odd adversaries)

Idea #2: Craft Model Scenery

A few years ago I had no idea how to build model scenery.  With the help of former Wizards of the Coast cartographer and model scenery extrordinaire Todd Gamble I learned the art of crafting realistic scenery for us in battles.  Although the precise details of hand crafting model scenery would take multiple articles to convey, I will give you the brief version here.

Step 1:  Buy Polystyrene Foam Insulation from your nearest large hardware store (Lowes, Home Depot, etc.)  The foam is blue or pink and is very tough.

Step 2:  Use a small sharp knife to score marks across the foam (if you’re under 18 have an adult score the marks for you).  Break the foam into varying sizes.

Step 3:  Roughly stack a few pieces of the foam, glue with wood glue, and run wood skewers through all the pieces.  Let dry overnight.

Step 4:  Use the knife to carve into the sides of the foam.  I run the side of the blade over the sharp edges of the foam letting random pieces break off to look like rocks.  Use your hands to rub off any loose pieces.  Don’t be afraid to hurt the foam, you want all the little pieces off or it will look weird later.

Step 5:  Mix 1 part wood glue to 1.5-2 parts water in a spray bottle.  Shake up and spray down your project.  Next cover the project in sand, dry dirt, or glue rocks where you want them.  Wait for stuff like static grass or moss.  Put that on last.

Step 6:  Pour latex paint through a paint filter into a spray bottle.  Fill with 1 part paint to 3 parts water, shake it up.  Take project outside and mist with paint.  Let dry in sun or overnight.

Step 7: Follow steps above with black paint but mix 1 part paint to 6-8 parts water for varying results.  Spray heavily on your project and use a hairdryer to push all over your project and into the cracks and crevasses!  This will give it the appearance of shadows and additional texture.  Let dry.

Step 8: Glue on final rocks, static grass, moss, or whatever you want.

Congrats, you have something realistic.  Check out this stuff Todd made and then visit his website here: Todd Gamble Art!

 Idea #3: Don’t stop Storytelling

You’ve been the DM, essentially the narrator of this story through dangerous dungeons and interesting locales.  Why would you stop just because a battle has begun?  Give the players an exciting play by play description as the battle unfolds.  Remember that a real life battle takes only seconds and so many things happen in that time.  In the time it has taken you to read these few sentences a man could have already been killed in battle.

Your adrenaline pumps through your veins, you struggle to shake the horse blinders that encroach upon you threatening to give you tunnel vision.  The evil mage raises his arms in a menacing stance and begins to chant in a deep ungodly voice.  You move as fast as you can, charging forward while you wrestle your blade from it’s scabbard.  The seconds seem stretched for an eternity as you cover the short ground between you and the mage.  His arms lower and just as you are about to make contact a blast of flames explodes from his fingers and slamming into you with such force that you are thrown into the air.  You find yourself lying upon the grass, leather armor partially on fire and your hair scorched and burned.  You look down and see a large black hole in your armor.  Luckily the spell missed your vitals.  You struggle to your feet and return to the fray.

Idea #4: Supplies & Miniatures

Miniatures are a great way to depict where everyone is on the battlefield.  If your battle has only a few combatants don’t worry about minis as they sometimes can take away from the role-playing experience.  If there are a lot of rules, characters with very specific abilities, or lots of combatants- by all means bust out the minis!  I recommend buying plastic miniatures to save time and putting them in bead boxes available at art supply stores or online .  I always carry about 6-8 of these boxes in hiking backpack (link!) along with all my other supplies.  Another ideal investment is a battlemat available at  All of the aforementioned products are shown below in links to the best deals I could find at below.

I recently read an article on a blog called “the Learning DM” about maximizing your storage and transport space for minis and D&D books.  The author recommended this amazing tackle box that he was using for a RPG transportation box.  Here’s one of the pictures of how he maximized the space.


Idea #5:  Mix things up

Don’t have the party battle orcs in a boring old flat circular cavern.  Create an interesting cavern with twists, turns, and elevation changes.  Perhaps a few orc archers are up in a higher cavern that the PCs can only get to by flying, scaling a slippery and dangerous wall, or progressing through the caves further.  Remember also that the enemy isn’t stupid.  They wouldn’t keep treasure chests full of powerful magical items lying around.  They would pick up those items and use them against the PCs.  The next time you see a Longsword +3 or a Wand of Fireballs in a treasure horde take it out of there and pop it into the hands of the enemy.  Yes, this might make the enemy a little unbalanced, but it also makes the combat that much more exciting.

Try throwing a puzzle into the middle of an adventure.  The party enters a room where all of a sudden a spiked ceiling starts to descend and both exits slam shut.  A wall slides away revealing a complex puzzle. While the rogue is trying to disarm the trap undead suddenly lumber out of the shadows.  On top of this there are a few holes in the walls that noxious gas spews from.  The party is going to have to plug those up or die from asphyxiation.  Now the rogue has to disarm the trap or the mage has to solve the puzzle before the gas kills everyone, and the fighter and cleric have to deal with the undead.

That’s an intense battle.


Have a great idea for something which adds suspense or an extra element to RPG combat?  Let’s hear it! 

That’s what this place is all about, NERD TREK- I’m on a TREK for NERDS just like you.  Yes, I know you’re a nerd because only a nerd could get this far into an article about nerdy Role-Playing games!




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Pathfinder Minis! Paizo & Wizkids announce new partnership

WizKids and Paizo have announced a new range of pre-painted fantasy miniatures based on the Pathfinder RPG.

Quoted from the official announcement:

Paizo and WizKids Launch Pathfinder Pre-Painted Minis
by: Jerome  |  Published: May 25th, 2011

Beginner Box Release Resurrects Pre-Painted Plastic Fantasy Miniatures

May 25, 2011 (REDMOND, Wash.) – Paizo Publishing and WizKids Games announce a new partnership whereby WizKids Games will produce a special set of pre-painted plastic miniatures for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box, an introductory boxed set slated to release in October 2011.

“We’re excited to bring the Pathfinder property to life via 3-D pre-painted fantasy miniatures” said Lax Chandra, President of WizKids Games, “Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG has emerged as a leader in the RPG category and we are looking forward to working with their great brand.”

“WizKids essentially created the pre-painted plastic miniatures category, and they’ve only gotten better in the years since,” said Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens. “We are thrilled to work with WizKids to bring our iconic characters to tabletops all over the world.”

Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box pre-painted fantasy miniatures will be available at and through WizKids distribution partners worldwide starting in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Are these prepainted plastic miniatures included in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box?
A: The Beginner Box includes more than 80 full-color pawns, but it does not include any prepainted plastic miniatures. This set is a separate product designed to complement the Beginner Box or stand on its own.

Q: Are the miniatures in this set randomized?
A: It’s a fixed set of miniatures. The exact list of minis will be announced soon.

Q: How much will this set cost?
A: The exact price will be announced soon. Expect the price to be comparable to similar WizKids miniatures boxed sets.

Q: Will this set be part of Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game subscription?
A: This set is produced by WizKids under license from Paizo, and is not part of any Paizo subscription.

Q: How does this affect the Pathfinder Miniatures line from Reaper Miniatures?
A: Reaper Miniatures has been producing unpainted metal Pathfinder Miniatures since Fall 2009, and they will continue to do so.

Q: Do these miniatures use Reaper’s sculpts?
A: These miniatures use all-new sculpts by WizKids.


Paizo Publishing®, LLC is a leading publisher of fantasy roleplaying games, accessories, board games, and novels. Paizo’s Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game, the result of the largest open playtest in the history of tabletop gaming, is one of the best-selling tabletop RPGs in today’s market. Pathfinder Adventure Path is the most popular and best-selling monthly product in the tabletop RPG industry. is the leading online hobby retail store, offering tens of thousands of products from a variety of publishers to customers all over the world. In the nine years since its founding, Paizo Publishing has received more than forty major awards and has grown to become one of the most influential companies in the hobby games industry.


A wholly owned subsidiary of the National Entertainment Collectibles Association Inc. (NECA), WizKids/NECA is a New Jersey-based game developer and publisher dedicated to creating games driven by imagination. The HeroClix brand is the most successful collectible miniatures games on the market today, with over 250 million miniature game figures sold worldwide. For additional information, visit

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What is PAX?

You can’t delve into the origins of the PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) without first excavating the history of the webcomic known as Penny Arcade.  Penny Arcade is a webcomic written by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik based around video games and video game culture.  The comic originally debuted in 1998 on the website  Jerry and Mike have since established their own website at which is updated with a new comic strip every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  The comics are accompanied by regular updates on the website’s blog.

The website receives over 2 million page views a day and I can say without hesitation that I am quite green with envy- almost as green as Kermit the Frog.  After spending a lot of time on their website, I can see what all the hype is about.  Not only does the comic have engaging artwork and characters but the references to everything in nerd culture cause me to laugh out loud at my desk at work which in turn causes my co-workers to fire looks of confusion and disdain in my direction which cause me to become distracted and write run-on sentences like the one you have just completed.  If their comic can do that, it can accomplish anything- even time travel without a flux capacitor.  Here’s one of my favorites:

Jerry and Mike are two of a handful of artists able to make a living off webcomics.   Originally Jerry and Mike supported their artistic endeavor with donations through their website, now they have switched to providing advertising and merchandise to support their ongoing comic.  In addition to the comic the two nerds have launched a slew of other projects including Child’s Play (a children’s charity), 2 games – Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness episodes 1 and 2, and of course the now famous PAX.

PAX is essentially a throng of excited tabletop and video gamers intent on spending three days completely plugged in to console and computer video games and tabletop RPGs.  In addition there is an inside keynote speech, game inspired concerts, panels on game industry topics, game publisher exhibition booths, tournaments, free-play areas, and after-hour parties.  PAX also features the Omegathon, a weekend long tournament of randomly selected attendees competing for a grand prize!  The final round of the tournament makes up PAX’s closing ceremony; past games have included Pong, Halo 3, Skee ball, and my absolute hands down favorite- Tetris!  PAX is a semi-annual festival that takes place in Seattle and Boston.

For a real look into what PAX is all about check out this video:


Jerry Holkins has said that the effect of PAX and Child’s Play on gaming culture will outlast that of the Penny Arcade webcomic “substantially”.

NERD TREK has requested media passes to attend PAX 2011 and will be covering all 3 days of the festival with a team of 6 of our nerdiest journalists.  Stay tuned to for full coverage of PAX Seattle 2011.


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My first Pathfinder game

Yesterday I was finally able to sit down with some friends and try out the game that seemingly everyone from AD&D 2nd edition to D&D 3.5 has migrated to.  I have had a borrowed copy of the Pathfinder book kicking around my house for a couple months but haven’t really had the chance to crack it open for more than a few minutes at a time.  When I had the chance I flipped through the pages and was immediately attracted to the colorful illustrations, high quality background and Pathfinder logo at the top of each page.  Although aesthetics should not necessarily be considered when weighing the quality of a RPG product, it is still something people look at and could perhaps be the deciding point on if the book makes it to checkout.  Thus, I am taking into account the attractiveness of the illustrations, backgrounds, logos, and character illos.

Before I get too deep into my personal review of Pathfinder let me explain a bit about my gaming past.  I come from a background of over 20 years DMing AD&D 1st and 2nd edition and the transition to 3.5 was admittedly a little forced.  I basically had no choice as everyone in my player lineup now plays the newer systems.  I had been a steadfast hardcore 2nd edition gamer owning every single 2e book as well as the entire collection of Forgotten Realms books and boxed sets- thanks Ed Greenwood!  One concept I quite enjoyed about 3.5 was the elimination of Thac0 which had served only to confuse new players and those who failed basic math.  Also, more strategy was introduced into the combat system along with an extremely set of detailed rules which served to help solve almost any dispute at the table quickly without much room for argument.  With this new book of rules also came a few annoyances to me as a DM.  Since when did 1st level characters become insanely powerful individuals who could already wield a surprising amount of power?  In 1st and 2nd edition it really felt like you would have to earn those abilities through many gaming sessions and although sometimes frustrating and difficult, you appreciated your earned powers that much more.  Also there are so many books for customizing your character in 3.5 that you basically can make any kind of character class you can imagine.  Although this is great for the players, the DM has a huge headache on his hands trying to figure out how to challenge a group who has a warrior who can psionically recharge and focus his attacks causing massive amounts of damage and slaying almost any enemy you throw at him.  Another challenge is overcoming the rule lawyering that comes into play with the advent of all these new and detailed rules.  Although useful when solving certain scenarios the rules sometimes get in the way of the story and when they do I try and remind my players that we’re here to have fun, not scrutinize every little detail and rule of the game.  That’s just a couple examples of the many challenges I have come across running 3.5 games.  I know that as DM I have the final say on these things, but honestly- who has time to keep track of all of this and scrutinize everyone’s character sheets?  Perhaps in high school on summer vacation, but I’m older now and I want to fill my precious free time with writing and DMing adventure, not being a rules lawyer over your characters.  Would Pathfinder be much different?  I had heard that some of the great annoyances of 3.5 had been removed and some new ideas introduced that would simplify a lot of the silliness that went on.

When I had the chance to sit down yesterday and dig a little further than skin deep I found basically the same rules for character creation as D&D 3.5, but a lot simpler.  We all decided to create characters and although I usually DM I requested the chance to try out this new RPG from the player position.  A fellow player agreed to take the DM throne and run a short and simple game, but first came character creation.  I rolled my stats a couple times and finally decided on a character with one strong stat, a few average and a couple weak.  I like characters that vary a bit and are not powerful across the board.  In fact I believe there is a strong advantage in playing a character that has a handicap.  It requires you to come up with some interesting ways to overcome that weakness.  So, I made a halfling bard with 3 STR named Cardamon Jolst along with a slew of other aliases, his true name being a secret that even he doesn’t remember after all his years traveling from village to village working the locals and extracting information and plundering coin.  The first thing I noticed while generating my character was that the character generation information was all laid out for me similar to the way 3.5 was presented.  If you’re coming from a 3.5 background Pathfinder should be a welcome change of pace without throwing you out of your realm too much.  I followed the directions for my race which were all neatly presented in a little box at the bottom of the page.  Once that was in order I moved on to my class of bard and started from the top working my way down.  It seems that they spent a lot of time narrowing down just the right balance of lore and game rules.  I was able to glean a few ideas for my character while at the same time writing down all my skills and special abilities.  When I filled out my skills one of the first things I noticed was that the Search, Spot, and one other ability I cannot recall but obviously do not miss were absent.  In their place was a familiar skill called “Perception”, something we had come up with on our own when running 2nd edition games all those years ago.  Perception in our games had been obtained by adding up INT, WIS, and CHA, dividing your result by 3 and using that number as a basis for checks involving anything requiring a perception check- the equivalent of spot and search checks in 3.5.  Now in Pathfinder they finally eliminated all those unnecessary redundancies and replaced them with the Perception check.  Simpler is smarter, I like it.  Also when you place a rank in a class skill you automatically get a bonus 3 points in that skill the first time you plug a rank in that slot.  This is nice because you can instantly begin using your new abilities without worrying about constantly failing.  When starting out a new character this is nice because instead of having a sleight of hand of say 5, you end up with an 8 which is much more likely to actually succeed should you decide to use that skill.  You can really concentrate of specific skills and customize your base class character without going bonkers with prestige classes like they did in 3.5.  There is definitely something to be said about the core classes and honing their abilities so that each is unique and a required presence within the party.  You can’t survive without your fighter, priest, thief, or mage.  All four must be present or at least skills distributed equally so that all ground is covered and exploration can take place with each person holding a very specific set of skills or abilities that allow the group to succeed by working together.  I love the group dynamic and I think Pathfinder has found a way to work that in quite well.

After our characters were rolled up (which despite my ignorance in the Pathfinder system didn’t take as long as I would have thought) we started a short intro game to get us accustomed to this new system.  A couple of the guys had already played and run Pathfinder games in the past and were really excited that the rest of us were willing to give it a shot.  Hell, I’ll try anything at least once!  What do I have to lose?  So, we started our adventure of which I must spare the details as this was a pre-made adventure and I do not wish to spoil it for any of my readers.  Throughout the adventure I utilized my skills and special abilities.  As a bard it was very interesting realizing that in combat I was mostly ineffective at causing more than a couple points of damage (if that!) per round.  In fact, I was mostly a support character singing my silly songs (which I made sure were contextually correct and quite emotionally abusive to the goblins we were combating, as well as rhythmically engaging) and buffing up my fellow adventurers.  The Paladin and Monk were tanks while the cleric and I helped keep the party alive and successful in combat.  I had a couple spells of 1st level which I decided to save in case there was a more difficult battle on the horizon which never did come in our short gaming session.  I did not get the chance to use my abilities for adventuring or exploration purposes on this session, but my first experience playing Pathfinder left me with a good enough taste in my mouth that I decided not to rinse and came home, hopped online, and promptly ordered the core book through Amazon.

If you too have been sitting on the fence in regards to the Pathfinder RPG I suggest hopping down on my side and grabbing a copy of this book.  Give it a shot, what have you got to lose?  You’ll be out $30 for a used copy that you could pass onto a friend should you not enjoy the game.  Although if you like everything that the original TSR and WOTC authors produced, I think you will find Pathfinder a welcome addition to your RPG collection.

If you enjoyed these Pathfinder character images you will love the artwork provided in the Pathfinder Core Rules book as this was gleaned from that source!  Well, all of them save one- this last picture is Jenny Poussin, a gorgeous gal who enjoys Pathfinder almost as much as she does modeling!  Check her out on Facebook and add her to your friends. You’ll love her cosplay pictures of various RPG and video game characters!  While you are on Facebook make sure you “like” NERD TREK which will automatically enter you in all of our future contests and giveaways!  Check out our Facebook page or homepage to see what kind of Nerd goodies we’re giving away today!

Here’s a link to some great prices on new and used copies of Pathfinder on Amazon.  When I last checked there was still a brand new copy for $31 with free shipping!  Enjoy!



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Death of a Gaming Shop


Yes, this time it’s personal.  My local gaming shop- “Cascade Comics & Games” is closing and imploding into a flurry of 50% off sales and depressed gamers and comic nerds.  When I stopped by the shop yesterday, the owners brother was manning the counter looking dreary reading a comic book.  After spotting the “50% off Store Closing Sale”, I asked “Is this for real?”  He nodded solemnly.  After talking for a bit I perused what was left on the shelves, lots of great deals here… but I would rather have the gaming shop than these deals, hell- I would rather have the gaming shop than all the free gaming merchandise in the world.

Jack, the owner of Cascade Comics & Games has had his shop now for about 5+ years in North Bend, WA.  He found ways to stay afloat when other businesses would have closed.  It looks like the economic downturn coupled with recent personal life issues have finally caught up with Jack.  Sadly at the end of the December, the local game shop will be no more.

I started thinking about the reasons that businesses all over the US are failing and a few different concepts came to me.  The poor economic times that our government has blessed us with have wiped out so many small businesses I fear there will be little left by the time the double dip recession (depression) hits rock bottom.  Hard financial times also put a huge strain on marriages.  The #1 reason for divorce in the US are spouses arguing over financial issues, and with these hard times almost 90% of Americans are dealing with financial issues one way or another.  With divorce comes not only the division of assets, but income- thus destroying the local business in the mess.  My last reason is the advent of internet businesses; There are so many online stores where you can get insanely low prices, why would you ever go to a local shop and pay twice the price for their goods?

Internet stores have VERY little overhead and thus are able to mark many products so low that they make only a couple bucks off each sale.  If local shops try and compete they will lose so much money they might as well not be selling anything at all.  I’m not saying the internet is bad, it’s just shifted the way things are bought and sold to a different format where real local people have less interaction with their community.  The problem is gaming and comic book shops not only sell goods, but create a gathering place for nerds and geeks to come together to work on model scenery, play strategy games like magic the gathering, and role-playing games like D&D.  Without this local gathering place, nerds have no real way to meet and interact on a local and personal level.  Some may argue that the internet is a great way to meet people, but I beg to differ.  Have you ever tried to find gamers to play with online and met in person only to regret ever offering to host a session or join their session?  You are already obligated to spend an entire day with these people who maybe the most annoying group of people you have ever met in your life.  Maybe they like to complain all session long, or just joke around and don’t actually play, or perhaps their DM never gives detailed descriptions and just runs battle after battle.  The point is, if you had met at the gaming shop you would have had the opportunity to see them in action firsthand and make a decision accordingly on if you wanted to spend an eight to ten hour day with them and their friends.

On many occasions I was able to meet other gamers by playing a game of Magic with them or just talking about old school RPGs.  I was given the chance to get to know some of the members of my community.  I even had the chance to bring Jack and some of his friends on an excursion with my friend Todd Gamble to tour a hugely popular company that makes miniature games (and they don’t even give tours!)   Todd had worked with the owner at Wizards of the Coast, thus was able to make this happen- something that never would have occurred were it not for the gathering place Cascade Comics and Games!

Since we are already in great danger of becoming an online society where we rarely communicate face to face and instead rely on technology, the closing of a local gathering place just pounds another nail into the coffin which gets tossed in the ground amidst hundreds of others.  The camera pans out to show thousands, and then millions more where contained within each was a neighborly community of individuals who once gathered and shared their lives, in person with each other and vested in common goals, ambitions, and entertainment together for the sake of the enjoyment and sense of community it brought.

Try and remember this next time you visit a local business that is original, artistic, or unique- this isn’t Starbucks and supported by millions of other shops the world over, this is a local business and the lady behind the counter might be eating Top Ramen tonight for dinner so that you can enjoy her business.  (Heck, to run NERD TREK I spend over 100 hours each month and on average make 25-50 cents a day!)  Just remember that if you appreciate your local businesses, make the extra effort to get out, meet people there, and purchase something for a little more $, knowing that the money will go in the pockets of a fellow American, a fellow American who is your neighbor.

I don’t want to see another gaming shop close.

Please stop by Cascade Comics and Games before it closes at the end of December 2010 and purchase something to support Jack.  If you really want to help, please drop some extra money into the cup on the counter once titled “baby fund” that now reads “college fund” to help his cute little baby girl.

Here’s to Jack and all his years of hard work and dedication, you will be sorely missed by many and never forgotten for what you did here.  Viva Cascade Comics & Games!  You shall live on in Elysium.

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Retro Role-Playing: The Keep on the Borderlands

The first time I held this module in my hands I was 8 years old. My friend Khidr had been gifted some red basic Dungeons and Dragons books by his Aunt and Uncle. There was the coveted Red Set with the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. They seemed intimidating at the time, but now I think back and laugh at how short they were compared to most RPG rulebooks. We also received what I truly believe got us involved in role-playing games to begin with- a set of polyhedron dice. Completely alien to us, these dice were like little treasures that required diligent safeguarding.  Strange shapes and of all different colors, this was what caused us to pull up chairs to what would become our gaming table and dig through these newfound books.  As soon as I found that there was a “Dungeon Master” who controlled the monsters and wrote the storyline I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I have always loved creation, being a creative creature at heart I get excited about writing songs, building model scenery, creating websites- these things give my life purpose and get my gears turning. I grabbed for the purple book which contained information FOR THE DUNGEON MASTER ONLY!

The Keep on the Borderlands was filled with plain black and white pages with a few poorly drawn pictures and descriptions of the interior of a keep and some nearby caverns. The cardboard exterior of the book came completely off from the bound pages and on the inside had a blue and white map of the keep.

It would provide the players with many adventures whether they realized it or not.  I could reuse different sections of this adventure to spawn ideas for future quests that would throw the Player Characters into dangerous situations and exciting sub-plots.  It would be many years later before I realized how influential those first books were to myself and my gaming group.  Now that I am an adult I decided that I would do a little more research on that old module since I find myself a bit more interested in the history of D&D.

The Keep on the Borderlands (B2) was a Dungeons and Dragons module created by the Father of D&D- Gary Gygax.  The module was first printed in 1979- a strangely reoccurring year in gaming products for me.  In the module, players are based at a keep and investigate a series of caves that are filled with a variety of monsters.  Designed to be used with the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, it was included in the 1979-1982 editions.  It was designed in mind for those new to the game.

This module went out of print in the early 80’s, but has since been reprinted two time, and a sequel was also made.  The Keep on the Borderlands was ranked as the 7th greatest D&D Adventure of all time by Dungeon Magazine in 2004.

In the adventure, the PC’s arrive at the Keep and can make it their base of operations.  Then they may investigate a group of caves in the nearby hills which are teeming with monsters.  The Caves of Chaos are home to multiple species of hostile humanoids.  Plot twists include a treacherous priest at the Keep, hungry lizardmen in a nearby swamp, and an angry hermit in the surrounding wilderness.  This is a typical “dungeon crawl” D&D adventure with a few outdoor treks.

In September of 2010, the module was re-released for D&D 4th Edition by Wizards of the Coast for use in the weekly D&D Encounters sessions. Like the original, this revised module is designed for use with a boxed set oriented towards the beginning player: “Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game”, the starter set for D&D Essentials, also released in September of 2010, which sports the red cover of the 1983 “Basic Rules” revision of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.

Things have finally come full circle.  The Red Classic D&D Basic set is back, as is our beloved Keep on the Borderlands.  Ironically enough, my good friend Khidr who started this D&D journey with me has returned to our gaming group.  So now, Khidr and I continue to explore our medieval  fantasy worlds together, and yes- I am still the Dungeon Master as I once was over two decades ago.


Check out this shirt Wil Wheaton created! Click the link below to visit J!nx Gamer Apparel!